Croatia's decision to buy Israeli fighter aircraft will guarantee its security and sovereignty, and would help maintain its capability to monitor its airspace, Defence Minister Damir Krstičević said on Wednesday.
The Defence Council which met Tuesday evening decided to accepted Israel's offer for multi-purpose F-16 fighter jets.
"We made a big decision. It is a historic decision, made to maintain the capabilities for monitoring airspace, and to maintain the tradition of (having) a combat air force. I think it is a huge step forward for the Croatian military," Krstičević said in an interview for the Croatian state radio.
"This project guarantees Croatia's security and sovereignty," he added.
"It was a year-long process which we conducted very systematically. This decision had been delayed for 15 years because of the lack of unity of vision regarding the development and capabilities of the Croatian military and because of budget cuts," he added.
Experts at the Croatian Air Force decided Croatia needed 12 aircraft (10 single-seaters and 2 two-seaters) and a flight simulator, which Krstičević said was the security minimum. Requests were sent to the United States, Sweden, Israel, Greece and South Korea and their bids were presented before a team of experts at the defence ministry.
"Clearly, this is an (major) expense, but we will form a strategic partnership with Israel, so it will also be an investment opportunity," he added.
Krstičević said that four factors were decisive for the selection: opportunity for a strategic partnership, aircraft capabilities, financial terms, and investment needed.
"Financially, the value of the Israeli bid is 3 billion kuna (€403 million), while the Swedish Gripen bid is 8.5 billion (€1.1 billion), which is equivalent the cost of (building) two Peljesac Bridge projects. Can we afford it at this moment?" he said.
"I think the (F-16) Barak is a top-notch aircraft. There are many of them in the world. What is important in this project is that we are getting a mentor, we are getting logistics from Israel. I think this is a huge benefit for the Croatian military," the defence minister concluded.